03 Mar The Origin of The Asoebi trend, is it here to stay for good?
In Nigeria, the biggest party fail anyone could ever conjure is to host a family celebration without Asoebi. In fact, any occasion, be it wedding party, birthday, graduation, Christening, house-warming or Owambe, without Asoebi is dead. Partying without Asoebi is akin to committing social hara-kiri; the party isn’t worth the I.V it is printed on. The shame is enough to make you skip town because you’re sure to be ostracized for life. That’s how seriously Nigerians take our Asoebi tradition.
It’s the ultimate party accessory, the traditional dress code and one of the biggest attractions people want to see at every soiree. In some parties, the menfolk turn up in just the cap fabric while the women turn up in the complete ensemble. In most, the fabrics are to die for, the most resplendent of colours and intricate of psychedelic designs meant to wow party guests. Asoebi aka native dress code aka family identity aka party id-card, is Nigeria’s most coveted item. You’re persona non-grata if you show up at a party venue sans asoebi, no matter how beautiful or handsome you are. You’re better off not showing up at all.
There has to be more to this Asoebi thing than cultural heritage with the frenzied manner people debate what fabric or design they’re partying in. The question is, how did this craze of wearing matching traditional party attire become a part of our national psyche? Perhaps the answer could be found in unravelling the origin behind the enchanting Asoebi mentality. How is it that party outfits got Nigerians, regardless of status, in an unbreakable chokehold?
The name ‘Asoebi’ isn’t even open to debate. Loosely translated, “Family cloth”, Asoebi derives its origin from South-Western Nigeria. Asoebi is a compound word; with Aso –meaning cloth and Ebi – meaning family. Asoebi to ancient Yorubas depicts the strength of family in dressing. Yorubas since hallowed antiquity had always had the culture of picking distinct fabrics or designs to glamourize their celebrations. It wasn’t only fashionable to select a family traditional attire, it was a societal norm for the family of the celebrant to exhibit the spirit of solidarity and merriment that way. The Asoebi tradition reflects the strength of the bond of the celebrating family bond.
The evolution of Asoebi saw people extending the spirit of their solidarity and family bond to members of their market society, club and church brethren. At friend and club member level, Asoebi was used to be called ‘Egbe J’oda’, loosely translated, ‘something contributed by society’ and that society could be Market womens’ association, Kolanut traders’ association, The butchers’ association etc. It was from “Egbe J’oda” that Asoebi started went mainstream, from where the celebrating family extended the family identity to their close friends and members of societal groups.
While it is disputable some celebrants started sharing Asoebi with friends so they could use the proceeds to defray the cost of their party, it became fashionable when majority of party guests are decked in the same attire but in myriads of different patterns.
Asoebi became notoriously popular in the 1960s (about the same time seeds of today’s owambe were planted) when party-goers and club members enlist their favourite singers to sing praises of their club or society while showering him in money with reckless abandon. Things really took off when different societies tried to outdo themselves by selecting the most expensive and exclusive of fabrics. That societal competition grounded what we know about Asoebi today.
Even though threatened by economic downturn several times; the SAP of the 1980s, the turbulent 1990s, the global meltdown of the mid-2000s. But as soon as there’s economic resurgence, Asoebi rises back to prominence like the Indian rubber ball, bigger, stronger and even more popular than ever.
The Asoebi we have today belongs to all of Nigeria in equal measure. In fact, Asoebi is the best thing to happen to Owambes since jollof rice. Wherever the party holds; North, South, East or West, it’s not complete without the bright and psychedelic patterned attires the whole of Nigeria has come to love and know as Asoebi.